All posts by Nils

Enderra: An Age of Eternal Winter

Over the past few weeks, as I was distracted by a surprisingly busy real life schedule, I pondered what sort of world Enderra would be in its latest iteration. I was certain it would be a “points of light” style setting – a lot of wilderness with civilization surviving in the nooks and crannies of a dangerous world. The best real world match, I decided, would be post-Western Roman Empire late antiquity/early middle ages. The Dark Ages, as we like to call them.

While total societal collapse alone is all fun and games (until it happens to the country you live in), a civilization going out with a whimper and just fading away isn’t particularly interesting. And why are humans (and the other civilized races) not simply rebuilding?

The answer – as you presumably guessed from the headline of this post – is an added complication. The climate of Enderra has cooled dramatically since the days of the Menorian Empire. Summers are short and cold, and usually rainy. Winters are much harsher, with heavier snowfalls, frozen rivers and coastal waters. In some regions, the snow never really melts year-round.

The consequences are dire. Crops fail with regularity, where they can be grown at all. Many areas have reverted to hunting and gathering. Even fishing is hard when the ice extends many miles off shore. Even augmented by magic and the use of greenhouses, food production is nowhere near enough to support pre-collapse population numbers. At the same time, the harsh climate has made wild beasts and monsters all that more likely to prey on humans.

In short, Enderra is experiencing a harsher version of the Little Ice Age.

Iced Trees. Image by Jake N.

I’ve always loved winter imagery – you may recall that this site had winter landscapes as its headers for the longest time, and in 2014 I hosted a Blog Carnival about the Icy Embrace of Winter. Skyrim is one of my favorite video games, as is The Bard’s Tale – granted, there wasn’t much actual winter depicted in the original game, but it was still set in a city beset by ice and snow.

In practical terms, this means as little or as much as a prospective game master wants it to mean. You can, uh, embrace the concept wholeheartedly and add winter survival themes and mechanics to every adventure. Low visibility from falling snow, early nightfall and long nights add a touch of mystery to any environment. It helps explain why the adventurers might come across a relatively untouched Menorian ruin. In reality, old ruins were not only looted, but often quarried for the construction of new houses. It should even help keep the power curve flat, when a good fur armor’s protection from the harsh temperature becomes more important than a full metal plate armor’s better armor rating.

And if you don’t like snow all the time, set your adventures during a summer season. As the peasants emerge from the relative safety of their towns and hamlets to begin growing much-needed crops, monsters hungry from a long winter descend from the mountains.

I think a lot can be done with a not-so-little Ice Age, and little complications like this certainly make things a lot more interesting.

RPG Blog Carnival: Legends & Lore

Welcome to the February 2020 RPG Blog Carnival! Our topic for this month is Legends & Lore!

Legends are tales and stories that are, at least to some extent, grounded in historic reality. They are the realm of the could-have-happened, never entirely doubted, but they may include fantastic elements – such as magic or miracles. Of course, in a world where magic is real and miracles verifiable, that aspect may just be historic as well. A legend becomes a myth when it lacks historicity.

Lore consists of traditions or knowledge held to be true, often passed from one generation to another orally – which adds inaccuracies over time. In the context of fantasy and science fiction, the term “Lore” also often refers to any and all information about the background of the fictional setting.

Possible Topics

Legends & Lore can be mere “fluff”, background material that establishes your setting’s “sense of place” or adds verisimilitude, or they can be hooks for exciting adventure – or both! Some ideas to get you started:

  • Lost civilizations and ancient empires are the source of many of the ruins and dungeons our plucky heroes – be they treasure hunters wielding sword and magics, bull-whip swinging archaeologists, mutant raiders in the Nuclear wasteland, or the away team of an Interstellar Expeditions Corporation craft.
  • Kings and Queens (or other rulers, famous people, business executives, and so on), both benign and villainous. What did they do? Why do bards sing their praise – or mock their memories?
  • Wars. (What are they good for?) Who fought whom, and why? What effects of the war linger on and have an effect on your world, maybe even centuries later?
  • What caused the Cataclysm?
  • Lost cities, castles, and temples provide places to explore. Who built them, for what purpose, why were they abandoned, and what riches were left behind?
  • In a science fiction setting, there would be stories of lost colonies and abandoned space stations. Or maybe even legends of the fabled home world of our species!
  • Ship wrecks, both ocean-going and space-faring. What were they transporting, and why, and where were they headed?
  • Once upon a time, Dragons, Dinosaurs, Elves, and Damned Things roamed the world. What happened to them – and will they return?
  • Creation Myths or other exploits of your pantheon of gods. Their intrigues, their interactions with mortals.
  • Origin stories for monster. What caused the Zombie Apocalypse? How were Centaurs created? Who built the first sentient Robots, and how did that lead to the AI Revolt?
  • Player actions: Did your players ever do anything so notable that it became part of the history of your world?
  • How have you used legends or lore effectively in your campaign? What worked, and what didn’t?

The possibilities are endless!

January

January’s Carnival was Random Encounter Tables, hosted by Geek Native.

Contributing

To contribute, simply post an article on the subject on your blog, and post a comment with a link to your article below. (I do actively moderate all posts, so please allow 24 hours or so for me to approve of your post.) At the beginning of March, I will be posting a summary with all contributing articles.

If you’d like to see previous RPG Blog Carnivals, head on over to the archive. And if you’d like to host one yourself, sign up today!

I hope you enjoy February’s RPG Blog Carnival! I’m looking forward to reading from you!

Ancient Empires of Enderra

Enderra has a long history, during which many empires rose and fell.

Ruins of the Old Ones

The Old Ones: This ancient civilization of lizard-men is largely a mystery. Ruins of their cities, temples, and castles can be found throughout Enderra.

The Ancient Elven Kingdom: The Elves once controlled much of Enderra. Elves still remember this era of benevolent rule; of enlightenment, arts and magic, and harbor resentment against those who destroyed the most advanced civilization in Enderran history.

The Archaean Empire: When the Humans first arrived on Enderra, they quickly expanded their territory. Within a short time, they had displaced the Elves as the dominant species on Enderra. Much blood was spilled by the Archeaens, and most of it was Elven. After a long reign, the Archaean Empire slowly fragmented, until plagues caused it to collapse entirely.

The Grand Alliance: Enderra remained fragmented into various smaller kingdoms and city-states until the Demon War. In response to the invasion, the Grand Alliance was founded. It was a military coalition, and not a true empire, but it aligned its members politically as well. Many forts and other defensive structures were built during the war, some of which are still in use today.

The Reign of the Unliving: The Grand Alliance succeeded in driving back the demons, but only at great cost. Armies were depleted, cities and nations decimated. A coven of vile necromancers took advantage of the situation. Raising the fallen from the war to serve as their army, they conquered much of Enderra.

The Kingdom (and later Empire) of Menoria: Also known as the “Last Empire”. After the fall of the Unliving, Menoria became the dominant economic and military power of Enderra. The Menorian kings, direct descendants of a line of Archaean emperors, claimed all of Enderra and used diplomacy, strategic marriages, threats, and where necessary (or convenient), armed force to expand their territory. When the royal families of Menoria and Thayne were unified in marriage, the King proclaimed the “restoration of the Empire”.

In truth, however, Menorian rule was all but absolute, as many smaller kingdoms remained independent. The Menorian Empire ruled for centuries in relative peace, until a sudden civil war erupted. Neighboring kingdoms saw an opportunity for invasion and took it. Menoria never recovered; it fragmented into countless petty kingdoms. Cities were razed or abandoned. Population declined, trade ceased, and monsters began to roam once civilized lands.

Weird West Points of Light

The other genre that Points of Light fits really well – besides Post Apocalypse – is The American Frontier. Wild West, in other words. The basic idea is nothing new – Weird West has been around for a long time.

Weird West combines our own world’s Wild West with supernatural elements and themes. Sometimes to a lesser, sometimes to a greater extent. But it’s still – mainly – a Wild West story.

The (probably) more accurate term, Fantasy Western (cf “Space Western”) isn’t widely used – probably because there are few examples of the subgenre, but also because there is so much overlap with other types of Weird Western. Fantasy and the Wild West are good matches for each other, really. The cowboys have much in common with knights or paladins. Put Conan on a horse (actually, he does use horses) and give him a revolver and he’d feel right at home in Monument Valley. And Elves have been used as a Native American stand-in before.

A Kenku Cowboy. Made with HeroForge.

I think the iconography is the strongest element of this. Elves with rifles. Orcs with sixshooters. Cowboy Kenku. Hell yes.

Elven woman with rifle and bullwhip. Made with HeroForge.

There are some issues, too. If you want to create an actual Western, you gotta have much higher technology than your normal D&D fantasy setting. Guns – you could substitute magic wands but at least for me that just doesn’t work – as well as railroads, and perhaps telegraphs and riverboats. Not in itself impossible, but once you add technology to a magical setting, you can’t avoid the question of how magic and technology combine. You end up with steam- or magipunk, and again, at least for me, that doesn’t quite work.

Post-Apocalyptic Points of Light

As I was contemplating what to do with Enderra, I remembered the D&D 4th Edition “Points of Light” setting. Points of Light has specific, if fairly typical, D&D assumptions.

After mulling them over, I realize that not only did this describe most D&D settings (there are exceptions), it describes most settings where the “wilderness” dominates. Fallout? Points of Light in a nuclear wasteland. The American West? Points of Light in the arid regions of a world without magic.

When we think “post-apocalyptic”, we usually think of nuclear war and its aftermath. For my generation, that was the most likely scenario for the end of civilization; these days, we can add climate change to the list. Nuclear wars and other world-ending calamities have been a popular excuse for introducing magic and elves to Earth for a long time.

However, threats to all of civilization, even the world or at least life on it, have always been a staple of Fantasy fiction – and gaming. So what if the unthinkable happens, evil triumphs, and wipes out everything that we hold dear? Boom. Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy.

While some settings do feature this in some fashion – ancient civilizations that disappeared in some great catastrophe, either natural or man made, only to leave behind treasure-laden ruins – I believe few, if any, settings play this straight.

The heavy stone door, fashioned by Dwarven artisans to withstand anything and everything, trembled and shook, then slowly slide aside. Bright daylight entered the ancient vault for the first time in a century. One by one its inhabitants emerged, shielding their eyes against the sun.
“What do you know,” said the Fighter. “The wizards got it right. The stasis field worked. We’re alive!”
“The same can’t be said of the others,” the Ranger replied. The others followed his gaze. Far below them, a field of moss-covered ruins littered the floor of the valley. Trees poked through the ancient stonework, swaying gently in the summer breeze.
“That’s the Capital City, isn’t it?” the Bard asked. “By the Gods, it feels like we left only days ago!”

Obviously, the characters do not have to be “vault dwellers”, they could be regular survivors or the descendants of the same. You can lift any sort of post-nuclear fiction, theme, or location, remove the high tech aspects, and put them directly into a fantasy setting. The “points” in “points of light” are the few civilized settlements. Everything else is a vast Wasteland of magical mutants, marauding monsters, and rampaging raiders.

Enderran Agenda for 2020

Plans and Other Whimsy

I know, I know. I am great at making plans, maybe not so great at following through with them. But, contrary to what you might believe, not finishing things actually annoys me greatly.

One of the things I realized I really want to do is decluttering. Both in real life – it is amazing how much crap one accumulates if one lives in the same spot for a decade – and digitally. And Enderra.com is at the top of that list.

I started the process last year, with the big blog cleanup of 2019. I quietly continued that cleanup since then. There is more work to do, but there’s very little return on time invested after a certain point, and I’ll likely just fix whatever I find when I find it, rather than actively looking for stuff to change.

So, anyway, what’s my plan for Enderra.com?

Well, simply put, I’d like to turn Enderra into and actual thing. Something I can look at and say, “yup, this is done”. I mean, we all know that fictional worlds are never “done”. What I mean is something someone who finds their way to this site can grab and use. A complete campaign world. I will identify what “complete” means in another post.

The Future World of Enderra

From this point forth, everything that has ever been posted about Enderra is non-canonical. Enderra, in its almost 30 years history (oh boy – I am getting very old), has always gone through revisions and changes. Some minor, some major. And while I am happy to re-use old material, I don’t want to be bound by it. Times change. Tastes change. And one has to wonder if the world really needs another pseudo-medieval European fantasy setting.

(Indeed, the main reasons why I keep the “Enderra” name are a) it has history and b) I’d have to come up with a new name…)

While much remains to be worked out, and this really warrants at least one future post, I do have a general idea of what Enderra should look like.

  • D&D compatible: There are a couple aspects of Dungeons & Dragons I do not like, but in the end D&D remains popular and accessible, there’s a huge body of third party material out there, and, well, it works. (And this is an excuse for me to finally pick up D&D 5th Edition.)
  • Sword & Sorcery: Enderra has always been more of a low magic setting. Not that there were no major plots or high stakes, but the player characters were always more likely to free some prisoner, search treasure in a dungeon, fight some dark cult, or hunt some criminal than to have a tea party with the gods. Dragons exist, but are rare.
  • No Color-Coded Morals: Speaking of dragons, they’re not color-coded to alignment. Nor is anybody else. Some cultures, organisations, or species may tend towards specific alignments, but that’s it. In reality, nobody does something to be evil; villains are just as convinced they’re “doing the right thing” as the protagonists are. In the context of D&D, alignments are a tool to aid gameplay, nothing more.
  • Wilderness and Exploration: Enderra has always been reasonably civilized. Sure, with a lot of wilderness between the towns, but most of the known world was under the control of one organized, functioning kingdom or another. I’m thinking of limiting the civilized spaces a lot more, with most of the world wild and untamed. Of course, adventuring opportunities abound. Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition stipulated a setting type called “Points of Light” which is the right direction (again, I’ll post more detailed thoughts on this later), but I am thinking about “The Frontier” and a possible land rush.
  • Technology: I am very tempted to move the technology forward a little, notably to include firearms. I’ll have to see just how well it works. More technology probably moves the setting closer to a Fantasy Western. Which actually sounds like fun.

As usual, all of this will probably be refined as we go.

Last but not least – a teaser: I signed up to host the RPG Blog Carnival in February. I always enjoyed running these events, and they always spurned me on to create stuff.

Creature: The Scavenger

The scavenger is humanoid, and indeed easily mistaken for a human. They stand between 1.5 and 2.0 meters tall and appear as ordinary people, usually dressed in good clothes such as dark suits. They do not speak, but their demeanor is passive, even friendly.

However, this is mere mimicry, designed to put the scavengers’ prey at ease. In reality, the entirety of the creature’s front is one big maw – when the monster attacks, this maw opens from its human mouth all the way down to the navel, revealing sharp rows of teeth not unlike those of a shark. The scavenger will, with its maw open, slowly approach its victim, use its human hands to hold onto the victim and bite off whatever it can – be that an arm, a head, or most of the victim. Children are swallowed whole.

While scavengers prefer eating people, and live prey at that, they do not hesitate to eat animals or corpses. The first witnesses to the scavengers’ true form observed them feed on corpses, and thus gave them their names.

Survivors invariably report being held in place as if in shock, or in a dreamy state. This is a hypnotic effect projected by the scavengers’ minds. This paralyzes the victims, as the slow-moving scavengers approach and ultimately devour them. A person who is able to resist the effect, or shake off the drowsiness, can easily evade the scavengers – they are relentless but move at a slow pace, meandering, swaying back and forth, at a slow walk’s pace.

Once a scavenger has gorged itself, it retreats to a quiet, secluded place – disused buildings, attics, basements – where it starts to digest. If it has eaten especially well, it will proceed to reproduce by mitosis – that is, a second scavenger will grow out of it until it detaches, fully grown and hungry, ready to start feeding.

Although it is easy to dismiss the scavenger as a dumb brute, they are quite intelligent. They will cooperate and hunt in packs, isolating individual humans or small groups, then swarm and attack them from multiple sites. In at least one reported case, the scavengers camouflaged themselves as security guards working crowd control at a demonstration.

Statistics

Strength: Average
Agility: Low
Intelligence: Average (human)
Endurance: Very high
Weapons: Holds on to victims with human arms, then takes bites out of them with teeth that can cut through limbs and bones.
Armor: None, but has no vital organs that could be critically hit.

Notes

I dreamed about these things and decided to write them down. I am sure they were subconsciously inspired by some horror movie or other.